What do Michaelagelo, Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas More, and Niccolo Machiavelli have in common aside from all of them being men? The answer, of course, is that these men and their ideas thrived during a period known as the Renaissance.
The Renaissance is generally seen as a period marked by a flourishing of culture and intellectual discourses. Lasting from the 14th to the 17th century, it was a period that traces its roots in Italy and subsequently spread across the European continent.
The overall atmosphere prevalent during the Renaissance was a radical departure from the period that preceded it, which was the Black Death during which millions died because of bubonic plague. In fact, many scholars advance the theory that it was precisely the hardships and tragedy that came with the plague which served as a catalyst in transforming the way people look at their lives, their fate, and their association with others. But whether or not this theory is true, it is indisputable that the Renaissance period has had a profound influence in the fields of arts, culture, philosophy, and politics that endure to this day.
In the field of arts, two of the most famous relics of the Renaissance period are Michaelangelo’s magnum opus, “Creation of Adam,” at the St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City and Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” now on display at the Louvre Museum in Paris. These two works of art have been made the subject of innumerable discourses, but the fact that they remain relevant today as they did in the past speaks of their enduring characteristics. Of course apart from these two works are thousands of other artworks from the Renaissance period that have also made a tremendous impact on how artworks are made and appreciated.
In terms of philosophy, Niccolo Machiavelli and Thomas More have contributed a great deal to the development of discourses about society and politics that are still being studied to this day. In fact, the term “Machiavellian” to pertain to a certain mindset where the means used justifies the end has resulted from the Italian thinker’s ideas.
All told, it’s hard to imagine how the world would look like at present if the Renaissance had not happened. For the fact is, the developments and innovations made as a result of this cultural movement spawned changes that have shaped and continue to shape the world as we know it.
Patrick Karl O’Brien is a British academic and historian. He is currently professor emeritus of global economic history at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Read his book review: An Engagement with Postmodern Foes, Literary Theorists and Friends on the Borders with History.